How Can You Incorporate Learning Into Youth Programs?

Amanda Standerfer


Brainstorming, Gathering a list of ideas for startup.

We’ve all heard “when you’ve seen one foundation, you’ve seen one foundation.” This familiar saying makes light of the many different ways foundations operate.  The same is true for how family foundations engage their next generation.  There is no “one size fits all” or magic bullet that ensures successful participation by younger family members.  And with so many models to choose from, how do you decide what’s right for your family foundation?

We don’t have definitive answers at the Lumpkin Family Foundation (LFF), but we do know one thing that is key to program success and participant satisfaction: learning.

LFF strives to be a learning organization by designing learning sessions for our Board and committees and incorporating evaluation reports throughout our annual activities.  For example, at our annual family meeting, we spend time reviewing the “Annual Big Questions” report that synthesizes evaluation data from post-grant reports, surveys, and other feedback we receive throughout the year into an infographic with highlights and key metrics.  We also create the “Big Book of All Data,” a cloud folder of raw evaluation data received by the foundation for members to browse at their own leisure.  Not everyone wants to read every grant report and survey, but we make sure it’s available to anyone who’s curious.  Board and committee learning sessions typically feature a speaker or panel on an issue area related to our mission or program focus.

Since learning is a core value of the foundation, young family members are immersed in learning activities early in their lives through character education programs at annual family meetings.  Kids engage in games and art projects that help them explore values like respect and demonstrate teamwork.  The program started as a way to keep the kids busy while the adults met, but now years later, the kids still remember some of the songs and games from the program.  And although they might claim that’s because of constant melody repetition, I’d like to believe it’s because the values stuck with them from those programs.  They learned something.

As the kids grew, the foundation’s board spent time learning about other next gen philanthropy efforts by hearing from other family foundations exploring the same topic and discussed how to evolve our own programs (individual and group) to continue engagement as interests matured and diversified.  The board recognized that younger family members spent a lot of time learning through their own grantmaking processes. So, we designed a youth-led grantmaking program, the Next Generation Education Fund (NGEF), which incorporated learning elements similar to other foundation grantmaking programs.

The NGEF Committee annually gives a grant of up to $5,000 for a tutoring/mentoring program to high school students in high-need areas in the community where the family is holding the annual family meeting.  Next Gen family members (age 13 to 25) gather via videoconference a couple of times during the grant cycle to learn about the grant focus from community and nonprofit leaders.  We spend time at the annual family meeting conducting site visits and discussing applications.  It’s great to see how the kids build off of past learning to work together and make decisions.  Every year their grantmaking confidence is deepened because they recall previous speakers or organizations they visited.  They also spend time reviewing the previous grantee’s post-grant report, so they have data on the impact of the grant they awarded.

How do we know that learning really happened?  It can be subtle!  Sometimes a NGEF Committee member recalls a program that was effective for a previous grantee and compares it to a current applicant’s program.  Or someone mentions something a nonprofit leader said was a community need and points out how an applicant directly addresses the issue.   Other times, kids relate their personal experiences in school and at jobs to what impact they think a particular program might have in a community.

Incorporating learning into a youth philanthropy program is not just for family foundations.  At the Lumpkin Family Foundation, we place learning front and center and we have found that it engages participants and gives them confidence in executing their programs.  How can you engage more youth by using learning as a core value in your program?  There are so many great, fun models out there that you’re bound to find one that fits your group!

Picture of About Amanda Standerfer

About Amanda Standerfer

Amanda is a program officer at the Lumpkin Family Foundation.